After the death of a business owner, the remaining assets of that business will flow towards the business owner’s estate, which includes their spouse, children, and other family members. Unfortunately, sometimes splitting up these funds of the estate can be a hostile and divisive process for a family. For instance, imagine a scenario where the deceased’s will stated that his or her funds were to be divided among his remaining family members. Yet the spouse of the deceased decided to spend the estate funds in a way that the children of the deceased believed to go against the terms of the will. In such a scenario, a Court will appoint a person to investigate what would be “in the best interest of a child” called a “guardian ad litem.” The Court will then determine whether the spouse has violated any terms of the will, the cost of services on behalf of the guardian ad litem, and what is the best solution going forward.
This exact situation arose in Wylie v. Estate. Wylie and her husband Derrell ran a company together. Derrell died, and wrote a will requesting his assets be divided among the family members. However, Wylie continued to use the company’s bank account to pay for personal items and failed to provide accurate accounting information of the company.
One of Derrell’s children filed suit alleging Wylie failed to provide accurate accounting information of the estate and was improperly comingling her funds with the estate funds. The Court appointed a guardian ad litem, GAL, to oversee the children’s claims. After trial, the Court held that Wylie had failed to provide an accurate account of the fund and failed to separate her funds from the estate’s. The Court also required Wylie to pay an $18,000 fee to pay for the guardian ad litem’s services.
On appeal to the Supreme Court of Alabama, Wylie argued that the $18,000 fee was excessive. The Court explained that an $18,000 guardian ad litem fee was within the trial court’s discretion. However, there was no documentation of the time the guardian ad litem spent working on the case that would justify the amount. As a result, the Court sent back the $18,000 fee to be reviewed by the trial court.
The lesson from this case is that it’s important to examine any charges for services that a trial court may award a court appointed official. Here, Wylie was able to successfully challenge an $18,000 fee because of insufficient documentation by the guardian ad litem.
If you or a loved one is facing a similar situation involving a court appointed official, it’s important to raise concerns about whether any fee is justified regarding the services performed.
Otherwise, you too may face an unjustifiably high service fee. You should have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side to ensure that you make the best arguments. Contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 656-0044for an attorney with the experience and knowledge that can make all the difference.